The BugShop: Layers

This page last modified- 11/2/01

I have noticed that as I get older my ambition to wrestle with gargantuan projects for hours on end has dwindled.  I was working on a long-overdue bathroom renovation in our house one winter when I spotted just the diversion I needed.  It was paint mixer that I had made many years before.   No, not the stick of wood that they give you a bunch of at the paint counter, but a simple 1/4" piece of steel rod with a small strip of sheet metal welded to the bottom, corners upturned like a propeller.  I would use it on a drill to mix paint to a uniform consistency.  But failure to rinse it off each time I used it had turned it into a lumpy, bumpy implement that looked like it came out of the movie “Alien”.  The propeller edges were scarcely visible.  "Can't have that" I thought, and waltzed off into the garage to clean it up, leaving the piles of tools and drywall compound dust behind in the bathroom.

At my workbench in the garage, I grabbed the propane torch head and spun a gas cylinder on to it.  I hit the peizioelectric starter button and the flame shot out with a “whoosh” like a jet engine.  I had just bought that torch last year.  Tools and fire, "Yeah!, this sure beats sanding walls" I thought.  I picked up a metal putty knife and gently heated the mixer shaft well away from the flame.  When I saw the outermost layer of gray paint blister a bit, I set one end down on the bench and scraped the knife down the length of the shank.  A big thick layer of 8 years of home improvement projects peeled off and curled on to the top of the workbench.

It was like a slice of a poorly coordinated rainbow.  Layers of paint, probably over an eighth of an inch thick.  Grays, greens, lavenders, rose, and peach.  And I knew every one of them.  It was like looking back in time.

Now I won't tell you that the room got all fuzzy and harp music started playing or anything.  But I held the shank closer to my eyes, and did reminisce a bit.  Clearly "Seagull Grey" was the dominant color.  It was the color of our house.  A year or so after I spent the better part of a summer painting our two story home, a friend told me about his painting strategy.  He said he painted one side of his house every year.  That way it was never that overwhelming.  In theory, it seemed like a good idea.  I tried it.  I kept up the first two years, painting the ends of the house.  Then, daunted by the sheer magnitude of the front of the house, and the fact that the paint was only three years old, I blew it off for a year.  The next year I painted the front, but the following two years I found some excuse for not picking up the brush and getting to work on the back.  But I had gone through probably a half dozen buckets of “Seagull Gray”, and it had left its mark on the old paint mixer.

Interspersed between a couple layers of the gray was a light peach.  The kitchen. I remember my wife wanting to re-do the whole kitchen and wanting a stenciled border along the ceiling.  I think she actually painted most of the kitchen herself.  A month later she bought the stencil kit, a few weeks after that she bought the paint for it.  A month and a half after that stenciling started.  Just slightly over a year later, the stencil was completed.  It looked nice, but I recalled thinking that the peach color underneath it had faded a bit.

Then there was another shade of gray, called "battleship" gray.  I distinctly remember moving at least 5 gallons of it from the house we rented prior to buying the house that the “layers” were telling the story of.  I found it at a local department store, waaayy back in the back corner of the store, on a "Clearance" shelf.  It was $1 a gallon.  I brought it home and my wife saw it in the garage.  "What is that paint for?" she asked.  "I don't know, but it was cheap. A DOLLAR a gallon!!"

"Yeah, but what is it for?"

I pretended not to hear.  I'd find a use for it one day.  Years later, after insulating and finishing my bare-stud garage walls, and using plywood for the lower four feet of the wall, I wandered into the basement to look for something to cover the new walls.  "Perfect!" I though.  What better color for a garage lined with triple chrome plated wrenches and compound miter saws than "Battleship Grey".  I think there are almost 4 gallons still left down in the basement, but they were a DOLLAR a gallon.

Near the bottom of all the layers was the unmistakable Lavender. Our daughter's room.  I remember this room renovation very well.  I learned a hard lesson about raging estrogen back then.  I remember being given a deadline, hard and fast, to complete some furniture moving and shelving teardown (the room was being used as an office prior) by a date 2 weeks or earlier before our daughters due date.  I didn't see what the big deal was.  "I'll get to it when I get to it" I said.  I had already "suggested" that my wife do the painting to burn off some hyperactive "nesting" energy.  I was warned sternly one evening that the shelving removal deadline was only a day away and failure to meet it meant that our daughter might be scarred for life by having to come home to a room that didn't look like Martha Stewart herself had just left it the day before.  Fact is, I had totally forgotten about it until I came home from work and caught a whiff of the faint smell of fresh latex paint as I came through the door form the garage.  “Uh oh” I thought. I slowly walked upstairs and stared into a cool lavender room right out of Alice in Wonderland.  My wife was rolling paint in the very last corner.

"Where'd the shelves go?" I asked, looking hard for evidence of the heavy plastic anchors along the right wall and seeing none.

"I took them down" was the cold answer without taking her eyes of the wall.

"With what?" I asked, trying to sound undaunted and remembering the heavy number 6 screws that held the shelf brackets into the wall.

"Your cordless drill" she said matter-of-factly.

"My drill?" I asked.

"Yes, your drill.  I got it out of the second drawer down under the workbench, found the chuck key in the tray next to it and got the bit from drawer to the side, next to the washers."

I was nothing short of stunned.  This was a woman who would come and get me out in the yard on a Saturday to get a battery cover of a talking robot toy for the kids.  Not to undermine her abilities, but the second drawer down under the work bench might just as well have contained body parts for all she knew.  I didn't even ask about how the holes were filled.  I think she probably collected some rocks along the driveway and ground them into a paste with a pair of nail clippers.

At the very bottom of the thick multi layer paint was a medium green.  It was the accent color that was used in the basement on the baseboards and trim when I finished it off into a playroom and office probably 7 years before.  I knew this color well as I had recently had to go find it again.  While away on a business trip last year, it seems that our curious 5 year old daughter had recently discovered, in a moment of boredom, a can of paint (a gallon, nearly full) at the top of the basement stairs.  A can of paint that my wife hadn't bothered to hammer the lid down on to tightly.  No, it wasn't green, it was actually a blue that was absent from the hardened mixer, cross section of life.  A blue that was very uniformly and somewhat artistically splashed across the carpet, walls, doors and baseboards at the bottom of the basement stairs as the lid flew off about halfway down and the can emptied nearly all it contents before a final elegant bounce of the very last step.  The big Sears wet-dry shop vac had made a reasonable attempt to clean up the mess, but had really one managed to just lighten the shade of blue a bit in the big pool on the carpet just beyond the last stair.  After tiring of seeing "Eryn's curiousity gone awry" in powder blue for many months every time I descended he stairs, I finally attacked it one weekend.  I removed all of the trim and took a small piece to Home Depot to see if I could get a match.  I sanded the walls and repainted them white, pulled the stair treads up and stripped them with an autobody sander and 80 grit paper.  Occasionally Eryn would appear at the top of the stairs and watch me toiling away, but when I glanced up at her, she would slip away quickly.

I chuckled a bit, picked up the mixer and held it near the flame again.  It seemed a bit wrong to soften, blister and scrape away memories like that, peeling off thick strips of house history and scooping them into the trash can.  I wondered why I had neglected to clean the paint of the mixer each time, but for a moment was happy I hadn't.  Like rings on a cut tree, each layer had a story behind it and I enjoyed remembering each one.  I finished off the mixer on the wire wheel on the bench grinder and the last speck of paint was whisked away.  I took the mixer back into the bathroom and used to mix up and old bucket of drywall compound and went back to work. 

The next day I saw it lying there as I passed the bathroom on the way out the door to work.  I had neglected to rinse the drywall compound off of it.  It was a lumpy, bumpy implement.................


Copyright© 2001; John S. Henry